SF Public Defender, Incarcerated Families Petition Appeals Court for Speedy Trial Rights – Prisoners Years Past Trial Deadlines as SF Superior Court Continues Slowdown

The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju and petitioners seeking a speedy trial have filed a petition for writ of mandate with the California Court of Appeal, seeking the San Francisco court’s “compliance with California statutes that require courts to give precedence to the trial of criminal cases over civil cases, and to cases where the accused is incarcerated pre-trial.”

“We won’t stop fighting for our clients whose civil and human rights have been violated in San Francisco Superior Court,” said PD Mano Raju. “We look forward to the Court of Appeal hearing the matter urgently and granting relief to our clients and their families.”

Petitioners Donna Doyle, Rose Marie Sims, and John Dunbar joined Raju for, as they note in a statement Thursday, in tackling the “humanitarian crisis caused by the San Francisco Superior Court’s failure to afford hundreds of  people  the  speedy  trial  rights to which they are entitled under California law.”

Donna Doyle and Rose Marie Sims, two mothers with adult children whose speedy trials rights were violated, allege San Francisco Superior Court, Presiding Judge Samuel K. Feng, and Chief Executive Officer T. Michael Yuen are “disregarding their legal duties resulting in an ongoing crisis where hundreds of presumptively innocent people are being made to endure solitary-like conditions in jail while they await trial.”

A little less than six months ago, in September 2021, Raju and a group of taxpayers sued San Francisco Superior Court, to compel the court to deal with “the backlog of trials that has built up since the beginning of the (COVID-19) pandemic.”

The case was transferred to Contra Costa County Superior Court when the San Francisco court recused itself from hearing the case.

And yet, last December, the Contra Costa Superior Court said it did not have the authority to grant the writ petition, and suggested the case move to the Court of Appeal.

The petition filed in the Court of Appeal, according to the PD Office, seeks relief for people whose trial deadlines have passed, including hundreds “who continue to suffer the harsh, solitary-like conditions of pre-trial confinement for months past their statutory last day for trial.”

The petition argues the “court’s conduct in continuing cases past their deadlines is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion,” and that “systemic violation of statutory duties to give calendar preference to criminal and in-custody trials” requires an “immediate resolution.”

The PD Office maintains that by the end of 2021, at least 475 people had cases past the statutory deadline for trial, and of that 475, nearly half, or 207 were in custody, and that represented 25 percent of the people in SF jails.

A year ago, said the PD, there were only 68 people in custody past their deadline for trial.

“The backlog is growing, and at this rate will never be cleared. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Superior Court only devoted 11 percent or less of its courtroom space to criminal trials in the last six months of 2021, despite the easing of social distancing,” said the PD.

Criminal justice advocates also note that conditions in San Francisco County Jail, as the PD’s office said in Thursday’s statement, “remain concerning, where most people are kept on lockdown for 23 hours a day and have no access to the outdoors or in-person family visits – conditions which can cause permanent mental, emotional, and physical harm.”

“As a mother and as a San Franciscan, I am outraged, disappointed, and have no faith in the so-called judicial system, which has failed everyone who has been incarcerated these last two years. The individuals that we put into office to uphold the law have violated our sons’ and daughters’ civil rights,” said petitioner Rose Marie Sims.

Her son has been in pretrial custody awaiting trial for 863 days, or nearly two and one half years – 444 days past his original trial deadline of November 2020.

“Men and women who have not even been convicted yet have been locked up for 23 hours a day. Their trauma of being locked up like animals can have long-term physical and mental health impacts, which also harms our families,” said Sims.

The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Olivier Schreiber & Chao LLP and Miller Shah LLP.

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